Board Briefed on Gutting of State Library

AADL director Josie Parker: "This is really terrible"

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Feb. 15, 2010): During her report to the board, AADL director Josie Parker delivered a scathing review of the state’s moves to downsize the Library of Michigan, laying out the implications for local patrons as well as for the state as a whole.

A memo dated Feb. 12, 2010 from the state Department of Education describes general plans to disperse the state library’s extensive collection. Parker noted that while the memo claims the state will support continued services, such as the popular Michigan eLibrary, there’s nothing that guarantees funding – and “without that, those resources are gone,” she said.

As part of an effort last year to balance the state’s budget,  Gov. Jennifer Granholm issued executive orders that abolished the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries, of which the Library of Michigan is a part. The Library of Michigan was transferred to the state Department of Education, and that department was charged with downsizing operations. [See executive orders 2009-36 and 2009-43]

Many people fought hard against this move, Parker said. She praised the AADL board for taking a stand last year, characterizing the move as bold. The board unanimously passed a resolution in September of 2009 urging the state legislature to keep the Library of Michigan’s services and collections whole. The resolution also supported a $10 million level of funding for libraries – an amount needed to ensure matching federal funds – and asked the legislature to guarantee line-item funding for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. [.pdf file of board resolution]

In addition, the board had endorsed Parker’s earlier efforts to lobby for support of the state library. In an Aug. 28, 2009 post on her director’s blog, Parker laid out the implications for the proposed changes. An excerpt:

It is not clear how abolishing the department dedicated to promoting Michigan history and the arts, and supporting all libraries in Michigan will result in significant savings; the Governor has indicated that there is an unfunded plan to move the collections to repurpose the State Library building. Library services, when separated or isolated from a larger system, and placed in a bureaucratic environment, will wither.

How will this proposed plan affect you? The State Library administers the services of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. AADL is a sub-regional service provider and has been since February of this year. The plan as proposed moves the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped from the Library of Michigan to the Commission for the Blind. It is not clear if any funding will follow the move, and the Commission is facing the same cuts as all other state departments and agencies. If services from the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped statewide are to remain stable and funded, the Governor, and our legislators, should be made aware that the proposed move is a threat to its existence.

The Library of Michigan also administers the group purchasing of databases that are made available to all libraries statewide for reduced costs. Any library cardholder or Michigan citizen with a valid driver’s license can access those databases from anywhere in the world. If the resources of the Library of Michigan are dispersed or eliminated, and if the State Aid to Libraries allocation is reduced, then access to these databases will disappear. Only the larger, most affluent communities will be able to consider locally funding these resources. Even at AADL, continuance of the currently available set of resources will not be possible.

In a follow-up post after Granholm amended the original executive order to retain the Library of Michigan by name, Parker thanks the governor and state legislators who had advocated for the library, but noted that funding remained an issue.

For example, the Feb. 12, 2010 memo states that the Library of Michigan will continue to administer the Michigan eLibrary, known as MeLCat, but it’s unclear whether there will be funding for that popular service. The statewide catalog system allows member libraries throughout Michigan, including AADL, to share materials. The service is primarily federally funded, but requires matching funds from the state – if the legislature cuts that funding, then the federal money can’t be tapped. AADL is both the largest MeLCat lender and largest borrower, with over 70,000 items going in and out annually.

Even though MeLCat and other the Library of Michigan services are supposed to continue, many of the physical collections will be dispersed. The Feb. 12, 2010 memo states that the Department of Education will work to identify “agencies or organizations within Michigan but outside of state government” to take over the genealogy collection and services, as well as the library’s regional federal depository program and federal documents collection. The library’s main general collection, Dewey collection and reference collections will be offered to other libraries in the state, according to the memo.

But there are few public libraries that have sufficient financial and staff resources to absorb these collections in their entirety, Parker said. The Ann Arbor library system could not take the collections, she said. Accessibility is also an issue – depending on which organization takes a particular collection or piece of a collection, the public might not be granted the kind of access they’ve had at the state library.

“This is really terrible,” Parker said about the changes, telling the board that she felt “punched.” She said it seems clear that the building in Lansing that housed the Library of Michigan collections “is wanted for some other purpose.”

Parker noted that libraries nationwide and across Michigan are struggling, citing specifically the recent news that the library system in Warren, Michigan, expects to close some of its branches. Though the Ann Arbor library is supported by a millage, Parker said that many rural libraries in Michigan rely on state funding to operate.

Board member Ed Surovell noted that he’s a trustee of the Library of Michigan Foundation, and that they now find themselves “a foundation without a purpose.” He said he shared the view that without the state library collections, “the rest will fall.”

Rebecca Head, AADL board president, echoed those concerns: “Unfortunately, I feel the worst is yet to come.”

Parker said she’s been asked if she’d be willing to testify before the state legislative appropriations committee, regarding funding for the Library of Michigan. She told the board she would testify, if called upon. If there’s a loss of state library services, she said, “our patrons will feel that directly.”

Strategic Planning Work Session

Monday’s board meeting was brief, but the group will reconvene on Thursday for a working session focused on strategic planning. It’s a continuation of a retreat the board held in September 2009. [See Chronicle coverage: "New Downtown Library? If, When and Where"]

At the board’s November 2009 meeting, board president Rebecca Head said that the development of strategic initiatives has focused on four areas: 1) the need for more space – and larger venues – in which to hold events, 2) the shift from print to non-print resources, and how to handle that transition, 3) how best to communicate with the public, and 4) how to make library accessible to variety of people in community.

Since then, library managers have been gathering input from staff to develop goals aimed at implementing the broader initiatives. At Thursday’s working session, which is open to the public, the board will review a draft of the strategic plan. The meeting will be facilitated by Sandra Greenstone, who also led the September 2009 retreat.

A final plan is expected to be brought to the board for a vote at their March 15 meeting.

Other Items

During Monday’s meeting, board president Rebecca Head noted that the agreement between the AADL board and the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library ends on May 19. The agreement can be renewed for a year at a time, with board approval. Head asked that the liaison committee, chaired by Margaret Leary, meet with representatives from the FAADL to talk about whether the agreement needs to be altered.

Head also noted that because of a recent change in the board’s election cycle, the board’s bylaws need to be revised to reflect the changes. She asked that the policy committee, led by Jan Barney Newman, make recommendations for the board to vote on at a future meeting.

Also related to the policy committee, AADL director Josie Parker said that the library staff will be working with its legal counsel and the committee to develop whistleblower and conflict-of-interest policies for AADL staff. These policies are part of new requirements by the IRS, Parker said, and will be brought to the board for approval.

During her director’s report, Parker noted the retirement of Judy Calhoun, who has worked at the library for 40 years. She thanked Calhoun for her service, and described her departure as a loss for the library.

Parker also briefed the board on what happens to materials that are taken out of circulation. Much of it goes to the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library, which sells the material to raise funds for AADL. But books and other materials are also distributed to local schools, community centers, jails, and homeless shelters, she said. As an example, last weekend the Bryant Community Center held a book fair, with materials donated by the library.

Present: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell. Also: Josie Parker, AADL director.

Absent: Barbara Murphy.

Next meetings: The library board will hold a working session for strategic planning on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010, beginning at 7 p.m. in conference room A, on the fourth floor of the AADL downtown building, 343 S. Fifth Ave. Regular board meetings are typically held on the third Monday of the month, with the public portion of the meeting starting at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor board room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The board’s next regular meeting is on Monday, March 15, 2010. [confirm date]


  1. By St.Julian
    February 16, 2010 at 4:29 pm | permalink

    The disbanding of the state library higlights the ignorance, incompetence, and stupidity that abounds in the executive and elective branches of state government. Place the libray in a department that doesn’t want it , has given it low priority, and it’s the first thing to be cut. Yes Lansing has shown us that we can competitively race to the bottom and find ourselves the bottom dweller.

  2. By Deb
    February 17, 2010 at 8:43 am | permalink

    Appreciate your report and support here in the A2 Chronicle. Just a point of clarification regarding the following statement in the article:

    “For example, the Feb. 12, 2010 memo states that the Library of Michigan will continue to administer the Michigan eLibrary, known as MeLCat, but it’s unclear whether there will be funding for that popular service.”

    The Michigan eLibrary (MeL) is *not* known as MeLCat. MeLCat is but one component of the Michigan eLibrary. In addition, includes a suite of over 40 subscription full-text databases, a digital Michigan history collection known as MeL Michigana, the Michigan Online Resources for Educators (MORE) which is a portal for educators/parents to find tens of thousands of curricular based materials aligned to the Michigan Content Expectations, and best selected Web sites in MeL’s 7 subject gateways plus Michigan history and featured topics.

    Deb Biggs Thomas
    MeL Coordinator
    Library of Michigan

  3. By SnarfOscarBoondoggle
    February 22, 2010 at 4:02 am | permalink

    the following is the letter i sent, paper print, to one of my reps in lansing:

    I am writing in respect to the Library of Michigan, Archives and Museum.

    I urge you to find a mechanism to cancel or reverse the Governor’s Executive Order splattering the Library, and collections, to languish in disinterested, unfocused departments with alternative priorities.

    I do not think this part of the Governor’s plan of Innovation helps, it damages.

    Certainly, I recognize that Michigan is in financial crisis and that a tiny quantity of dollars would be saved ($2 million but only .001% of the deficit last I looked). The presumption, however, those quantities of dollars reflects the value or worth from those dollars reflects poorly on judgment.

    The Library of Michigan is Michigan’s “Library of Congress.” Its unique holdings would become an extinct species in the cultural, historical and legal environment that comprises merely 233 years of the last, best hope — America. Replication or restoration is impossible.

    Researchers, genealogists and historians, nationwide, are more than mere tourist dollars when they travel to Michigan to use our golden resource.

    By way of comparison, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Allen County Public Library draws hundreds of people to their facility year after year just to do genealogical research.  Ft. Wayne has built accommodating facilities for visitors! They sponsor national conventions and multiple yearly events focused on their collection! And this is just a county, not a state.

    The Library of Michigan could do the same. 

    The governor makes noises about wanting JOBS creation?  What about a few motels/hotels/inns to accommodate visitors demonstrating that Michigan IS an accommodating state where people seeking a pleasant peninsula can look about them?  Oh, conventions to follow, of course.

    This is another form of tourism but is the Library of Michigan represented in the tourism brochures? Send me one such brochure, please.

    Historically (check in your state library), no state library has EVER been closed, not even during the Great Depression. Threatened, yes; closed, no. Better judgment did prevail then.

    “Never” is the time to cut the State’s Library services.

    If, however, cooler heads fail to prevail, the least-worst option may be to mothball the library for resuscitation, intact, later. The state library must be kept together and in the same facilities; perhaps included, intact, within the Department of State.


    i received a hand-annotated reply reflecting agreement of sorts. we shall see.

  4. March 9, 2010 at 11:18 am | permalink

    If a key issue for MelCat is availability of matching funds, can AADL step forward to provide them? A better investment at this juncture than a new building.